Back in May someone asked me if conducting therapy in this new way, over a screen, was the same as being in person. They were curious to know if I would continue this way after everyone was back in an office. My answer at the time was that I felt this type of therapy was very effective and a good alternative. I had opportunities to see inside client’s homes and families in a way I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. Sometimes I was seeing firsthand the way a parent interacted lovingly with their child. New and productive conversations were taking place. As everyone coped with a global pandemic virtual therapy was vital. Back in May I answered that I would always return to an office and see people in person. All these months later I feel even more strongly about that statement.
While virtual therapy has had benefits, it has also had pitfalls. Aside from my clients sometimes getting distracted by their home life I too have had issues arise on my end. Sounds can be heard in the background, internet connections can drop, and a cat might meow incessantly. What’s worse than that is the shared space that is missed. That space is a place where clients can feel safe, where they have no concern about being overheard, the work computer is left at work, and distractions are greatly minimized. In that space we get to sit across from one another and see one another’s facial expressions clearly, catch the moment when a client’s body tenses up or relaxes, and fully be present together. At times the face in the screen opposite mine is so close that it can feel as though I’m sitting even closer to my client than if we were in the same room. And other times it feels like we’re worlds apart from one another because we’re not in the same physical space. Some clients will mention certain things that catch their eye if they’ve chosen to go on a walk to get the privacy they need. When they walk the same route again the following week, I’m already familiar with the sounds surrounding them. As for me, I have set up my new “office” and sit in the same place for every session. Even though the screen only shows a blank white wall behind me I have bought a small fake plant to keep besides me as a way to bring color into the area. I keep my area consistent as a way to communicate that I’m still here reliably even though it has to be through a virtual lens. After all these months it’s as though we’ve created a new shared space even while being physically distant. The truth is that I do not know when I will see clients in my office again. I certainly didn’t think I would be out of my office for this long. It saddens me to know it will still be some time until I can sit in that shared space with them, but I know as soon as it is safe, we will happily return.